How £1m of Joan Eardley artworks went up in smoke

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A SCOTS family has revealed how they threw up to a million pounds worth of pictures by the late artist Joan Eardley on to their living room fire.

• The artist Joan Eardley at work in her studio

The Sampson family posed as models for Eardley in the late 1950s, when the great painter had her studio near their home in Glasgow's east end.

The 12 Sampson children inspired Eardley and featured in a number of her works, some worth many thousands of pounds, adorning galleries around the world.

But they also took "hundreds" of pictures and sketches home with them. And rather than keep them, the sketches were turned into paper aeroplanes, notepaper and even firelighters.

Mary McDonald, 58, - then Mary Sampson - said: "My brother Andrew was the first to model for Joan. She'd come in to Rottenrow, where we lived in a second-floor tenement next to the maternity hospital, and see us all playing games in the close.

"She'd talk to our mum and sketch us playing games, and would take Andrew off to her studio. She even took him up to her cottage in Catterline, Aberdeenshire, for weekends.

"Then one day she asked mum if she could take us all to her studio. She was happy because she had 12 kids and it gave her peace for a while. That would have been about 1956, when I was four years old.

"We modelled for her all year round for several years into the 1960s. We loved her studio. It was like a treasure trove with nooks and crannies everywhere to play in.

"We'd sit or stand for what seemed like hours, then when we became fidgety she'd let us draw or play, and she'd sketch. Then, she'd give us the sketches to take home.

"We'd take them home and make paper aeroplanes. Then mum would throw them on the fire or roll them up tightly to light the next morning's fire.

"When you see how much money Joan's paintings fetch now, it does make you wonder how much we sent up in smoke. It must have been hundreds of thousands of pounds, maybe a million."

Mary, who later worked in WD&HO Wills cigarette factory, added: "Looking back, the sketches were very valuable, but we didn't realise what they were. If you had an appreciation for art you'd have known they were very good but they weren't very flattering and mum didn't like them."

Mary's sister Anne, now 54, said: "After she died we didn't even bother about the paintings. We didn't know anything about them. We didn't know she'd become famous."

Their mother, Jean Sampson, now 89, said: "They'd bring paintings home and scatter them about the house and I used to tear them up and throw them in the fire. It was after she had died the lawyer asked if we had any sketches. We'd burned millions."

Eardley studied at Glasgow College of Art.She became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1963, just before she died.

Her paintings can be found in the National Galleries of Scotland as well as many other galleries across the world.

l The Sampsons' story features in Films of Scotland - Free Spirits, on BBC One Scotland, at 7.30 tonight.